Published by NAL on February 4th, 2014
Genres: Young Adult, Historical Fiction
In the Houses of Montague and Capulet, there is only one goal: power. The boys are born to fight and die for honor and—if they survive—marry for influence and money, not love. The girls are assets, to be spent wisely. Their wishes are of no import. Their fates are written on the day they are born.
Benvolio Montague, cousin to Romeo, knows all this. He expects to die for his cousin, for his house, but a spark of rebellion still lives inside him. At night, he is the Prince of Shadows, the greatest thief in Verona—and he risks all as he steals from House Capulet. In doing so, he sets eyes on convent-bound Rosaline, and a terrible curse begins that will claim the lives of many in Verona…
… And will rewrite all their fates, forever.
I’ve only read one other novel by Rachel Caine, and Ink and Bone sorely disappointed me. So when I picked up Prince of Shadows, realizing only halfway through the book by whom it had been written, I was pleasantly surprised. Because this book was amazing. Now, let me tell you about my feels because I have many.
Let it be known that I love retellings, especially those that expand an original beyond its horizon. This Romeo and Juliet retelling was enriched by the point of view of Benvolio Montague, Romeo’s (much more reasonable) cousin. Prince of Shadows combines an engaging narrator (yes, Benvolio Montague is my dreamboat), a dark atmosphere set in the streets of Verona (yes, Verona is a gem of Italy) and poetic prose that makes the historical setting come to life.
First of all, how can I not fall in love with a Romeo and Juliet retelling that commences with trespassing and thoughts of murder? How, I ask you? Simply impossible.
This was the retelling of Romeo and Juliet I didn’t know I needed in my life. Let me tell you of my undying love for Benvolio Montague. The most famous burglar of Verona – which earns him the nickname Prince of Shadows – is an exquisite character, and he makes Romeo look like a fool. There is no greater joy than discovering remotely reasonable men in a Romeo and Juliet retelling, let me assure you. So in this book, a different male protagonist advances into the spotlight. Benvolio is not quite as pretty as his rosy-cheeked cousin Romeo but he’s the one who has his wits together. Benvolio is such a wonderfully multi-layered, captivating character. Whereas others settle differences with a brawl in the city, Benvolio sneaks across the rooftops of Verona to steal his enemies’ possessions of value. He’s a sneak. A trickster, but one loyal to his family and his friends. At the manor, he’s a caged panther, but at night he puts on his disguise and revels in his freedom. And I love this guy, have I mentioned that? Yes? Yes. Romeo, on the other hand, is a dreamer, his heads more in the clouds that firmly on his shoulders. Romeo, though praised as the epitome of a romantic, is a shallow little fellow who cannot see past a beautiful face. He made me want to break things, dear friends.
So, one fateful day, Benvolio meets his match, which happens quite early in the book. He runs into Rosaline on one of his nightly excursions of thievery. Rosaline is a strong heroine, someone to root for, for her characterization is empowering to women. She is well-educated, strong-willed, and has a spark of sass, too. The pairing of Benvolio and Rosaline are the slow burn to Romeo and Juliet’s insta-love. To my surprise, I really enjoyed the contrast. I’m not fond of stories featuring insta-love but it worked in miraculous ways in Prince of Shadows. Because as I’ve mentioned, the book is told from Benvolio’s perspective, so it really underpins the strength of a slowly developing love. In addition, I appreciated the explanation Caine delivered for the folly that was Romeo and Juliet’s fleeting romance.
To reduce Prince of Shadows to a mere love story would, however, not do the book justice in the slighest. What made me love this book so much was that the love story, though a driver of the plot, didn’t take a front seat.
I had a love-hate relationship with their best friend Mercutio. Mercutio is such a grey character, he’s the friend who sways from his path because he’s deeply wronged and wounded, and yet you kind of what to give him a good shake. Their gay best friend who’s also involved in Benvolio’s nightly mischief is instrumentalized for two purposes. One, as demonstrated by the example of Mercutio, the focus on friendship is strong in this book. The three young men make a fantastic trio and Verona puts their loyalties to the test more than once. Two, also demonstrated by the example of Mercutio, the author takes a wonderful stab at the injustices of a narrow-minded and corrupt society, and though it hurt as hell, I still loved it. This book stirs an intricate plot of political alliances, family feuds, violent clashes, and betrayals. The ugly truth of Verona’s little secrets is bloody and unforgiving, and the book paints a haunting image of a city torn apart by two families with poignant, vivid writing. The pain, sorrows, desperation, and hatred were so palpably real, which is testimony to Caine’s skills as a writer. From sympathy to blinding fury, I think Prince of Shadows made me feel every shade of emotion in existence.
All in all, Prince of Shadows made for a wickedly good love story. Wicked, because it was overshadowed by hatred, bloodshed, and general madness. Good, because it gave me all the feels. And because Romeo and Juliet can both suck it, for they are not the true stars of this romantic tragedy. Seriously, if you have a heart for twisted reimaginings of ancient tales, then Prince of Shadows is your book.